Release date: 31 October 1997
In 1950s Los Angeles, three cops with very different approaches to the law find their paths crossing over a series of murders.
Crowe’s performance as Hando the skinhead in 1992’s Romper Stomper may have demonstrated his star potential, but it’s his turn as a principled thug of a cop, Wendell ‘Bud’ White, in Curtis Hanson’s Oscar-winning LA Confidential that confirmed he’d be one of the greats. Hot-headed but steered by an unshakable belief in justice, Crowe manages to make Bud someone you fear and root for in the same breath. Quite an achievement.
Bud’s first meeting with escort, Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) shows the cop professionally focused but personally unsure as the playful interview reveals a mutual attraction that temporarily throws the usually headstrong detective.
Released: 10 March 2000
Based on real events, The Insider tells the story of a tobacco company chemist who faces very real threats when he agrees to become a whistleblower on the industry’s shady practices.
Crowe’s physical transformation into Jeffrey Wigand, an executive nobody caught between personal morality and his corporate obligations, is nothing short of remarkable. A fact made all the more incredible when you realise The Insider came out the same year Crowe blazed across screens as buff Roman action hero Maximus in Gladiator.
With Wigand’s bosses seemingly victorious after a battle that has almost destroyed him, Jeffrey confronts his TV producer ally, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) over the phone, believing him to have betrayed his trust. In the space of a couple of minutes, Crowe’s Wigand is buffeted by rage, grief, and finally heartbreaking resignation as he realises Bergman isn’t to blame, and that they simply lost an unfair fight.
Released: 12 May 2000
When the Roman emperor dies, his favourite general, Maximus, is stripped of everything by the emperor’s jealous son, setting Maximus on a collision course with the might of Rome as a lowly gladiator.
Are you kidding? Just as LA Confidential assured Crowe’s Tinseltown ascendancy, Ridley Scott’s sword and sandals epic turned him into a leading man. Driven by revenge, the character of Maximus could easily have become a two-dimensional caricature of an action hero. Yet, with Crowe’s focus and perfect throttle control on the character’s ferocity and fragility, Maximus gets our thumbs up from the get-go.
Joaquin Phoenix’s psychotic emperor, Commodus doesn’t just know Maximus, he betrayed him. So when Maximus the gladiator reveals his true identity to the slimy emperor in the Colosseum, it’s a moment of pure cinematic adrenaline. Altogether now: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…”
Released: 22 February 2002
It’s 1947, and when an incredibly gifted mathematician agrees to use his skills to help The Pentagon crack encrypted messages, personal and professional struggles combine with devastating results.
Crowe is an exceptional physical actor and while that means he excels at BIG, alpha roles such as Gladiator’s Maximus and The Man in Unhinged, it’s also a skill he uses to mesmerisingly nuanced effect playing psychologically atypical mathematician, John Nash Jr. From the way Nash’s gaze slides from making direct eye contact to the tiny head movements that mirror his inner turmoil, Crowe’s performance is gripping and affectingly human.
There are grander dramatic moments in A Beautiful Mind but, for us, the Equilibrium Bar Scene is hard to beat. Nash and his university mates are discussing how best to approach a group of young women in a bar as a mathematical problem when his mind takes a quantum leap and he makes a breakthrough. He doesn’t get the girl, but watching the Eureka moment dawn as he scrabbles to relate it to his friends is really special.
Released: 3 June 2016
In 1970s Los Angeles, a pair of bickering, mismatched private detectives cross paths and try their best to work together to solve a murder and the disappearance of a young woman.
Co-star Ryan Gosling gets a lot of the film’s best lines, but it’s Crowe’s flawless comic timing and straight-man chops that elevate writer/director Shane Black’s neo-noir action comedy into laugh-out-loud must-see territory. Add Russell’s extraordinary gift for inhabiting characters who are simultaneously hard as nails and vulnerable, and The Nice Guys stands as a woefully underrated Crowe gem.
Honestly, there are too many great moments in this movie to settle on just one. That being said, for a masterclass in subtle physical comedy, watch Jackson’s changing expressions during the elevator scene. It makes us laugh just thinking about it.